Day 1 with the Celtics Means Day 1 in the Community
ROXBURY, Massachusetts – The scent of freshly-cut wood emanated from a glossy floor, and the sound of high-pitched cheers bounced off of sun-soaked walls.
This was the setting for a day that four young men and 80 children will never forget.
Four days after the Celtics selected Romeo Langford, Grant Williams, Carsen Edwards and Tremont Waters in the 2019 NBA Draft, the four draftees were already in Boston to carry on a nearly decade-long tradition that has garnered admiration from around the league.
Since 2011, the Players’ Choice Grant has stood as one of the marquee programs within the Boston Celtics’ community engagement department. Each season, members of the team vote on a location to receive a $50,000 professional-grade renovation, courtesy of the Shamrock Foundation. Months later, it is the newest members of the team – the draftees – who immerse themselves into the Boston community by unveiling the completed project during their first day as Celtics.
This year’s draftees completed their introductory press conferences and immediately made their way over to the Tobin Community Center in Roxbury to celebrate the renovation of the gymnasium with 80 Boston Celtics Youth Foundation members. To the youth members, this was an opportunity to closely interact with and listen to NBA players. For the athletes, it was an opportunity to be introduced to their new city while making an impact on young lives.
“It’s amazing, just being able to see I have this type of impact with just the slightest thing of having my own time and just being here,” said Edwards, the No. 33 overall pick out of Purdue. “Because I can remember times where I was in situations at basketball camps and saw guys that I looked up to and wanted to be one day. So to see that I’m near that, where people can look up to me and see that I have an impact, is amazing.”
Williams, too, basked in the opportunity to put smiles on so many faces in his new city.
“These kids, you never know what they’re going through,” he told Celtics.com. “If you can improve one kid’s day even for just an hour, that can change their emotion, their feeling for the entire week, or even how they treat people in life.”
Doing so was a motivating factor behind the creation of the Players’ Choice Grant program. It allows one season’s players to select the renovation site where so many smiles will be generated, and the incoming draft class gets to carry the program on and deliver those smiles. At its core, the program serves as a passing of the proverbial baton from one roster to the next class of Celtics when it comes to involvement in the community.
This year’s renovation at the Tobin Community Center incorporated the following upgrades: a refurbished court with new designs and an NBA 3-point line, a wireless shot clock system, six new backboards and rims, and new wall graphics. The facility had a new-gym smell and a brand-new look for all of the youth to soak in during the event.
After the players were introduced to the BCYF members, the entire group got to know each other by playing a large rock-paper-scissors tournament and exchanging handshakes that included a few hand slaps and a finishing hip-bump. Williams, who stands in at 6-foot-7 and nearly 240 pounds, joked about the exchange with kids who were less than half his size.
“I was trying to hold back,” he said with a laugh of the hip-bumps, “but then there were a couple of kids who were going pretty hard, so I made sure to give a little pressure, but not too much where I knocked them over so they felt it.”
The youth were then put through a series of basketball drills to promote their growth on the court. The players served as coaches who were doing everything from instructing, to passing, to setting screens for the youngsters.
Lastly, the event concluded with a question-and-answer session, during which the four newly-minted NBA players were able to relay their advice on basketball and life in general. Waters, in particular, felt compelled to take advantage of that session.
“My parents and the older adults in my life always told me that when you grow up you view the world differently,” he said. “I didn’t necessarily understand what they were saying while I was a youngin’, but now I look at [the kids] and I’m like, ‘Man, I’ve been through a lot that I can actually tell them about.’
He continued, “You’ve got to be able to appreciate your parents and just know that every day is a day for you to get better at something. It doesn’t have to be basketball every day. On that day, it could be cleaning the house. Always have the mindset of getting better and you’ll never go down the wrong path.”
The youth members of the Tobin Community Center are in a far better environment to get better on a daily basis now that the 2019 Players’ Choice Grant renovation has been completed. As it does every year, this event served as a loud-and-clear statement to the newest Celtics that this franchise is here to make a difference in the community.